Leading Figures

Jeff Vancouver - Ohio University, USA

Jeff Vancouver

Jeff Vancouver is an associate professor of psychology at Ohio University where he applies control theory principles, primarily from PCT, to his work on human motivation and decision making (see his website). He has published several research and conceptual papers on control theory, particularly as it relates to his subdiscipline of Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

What is a Goal?

Dr. Vancouver has focused on the goal construct as it is conceived in psychology and described how it relates to the negative feedback loop in control theory. He has also described controversies related to the many versions of control theory that exist in psychological circles. One controversy Dr. Vancouver created when he examined the role self-efficacy beliefs might play in control theory models of human behavior. Specifically, he argued that self-efficacy, which is your belief in your capacity to engage on some behavior or reach varying levels of performance, might negatively relate to performance because is negatively relates to the resources you allocate to a task (i.e., motivation), provided you take on the task. This is in stark contrast to most descriptions of the role of self-efficacy beliefs in human motivation. However, it makes sense if one assumes that the belief might be used when imaging what is needed to achieve a goal. That is, if you believe that you have high capacity, you will imagine needing fewer resources than if you believe your capacity is low. This creates a negative relationship between capacity belief (i.e., self-efficacy) and resources allocated. It is also an extension of Powers’ conception of the imagination mode in Perceptual Control Theory.

Computer Modelling of Control Theory

Dr. Vancouver has also adapted, and prompted, the use of computational modeling of control systems as a means for describing one’s theoretically thinking precisely and formally (i.e., mathematically), as well as a means for theory testing. In particular, computational models of control systems can be simulated over time to produce predictions of behavior. These predictions can then be compared to the behavior of individuals working in the context modeled. If the model’s behavior matches individuals’ behavior, it implies that the hypothetical mechanisms might be reasonable approximations of the actual mechanisms operating within the individual.


Jeff Vancouver’s website includes a summary of his wide range of publications and is located here.

Key References related to PCT

Scherbaum, C. A. & Vancouver, J. B. (in press). If we produce discrepancies, then how? Testing a computational process model of positive goal revision. Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Vancouver, J. B. & Scherbaum, C. A. (2008). Do We Self-Regulate Actions or Perceptions? A Test of Two Computational Models. Computational and Mathematical Organizational Theory, 14, 1-22.

Vancouver, J. B. More, K. M., & Yoder, R. J. (2008). Self‑efficacy and resource allocation: Support for a discontinuous model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 35-47

Vancouver, J. B.& Zawidzki, T. (2007). What Determines the Self in Self‑Regulation: Applied Psychology’s Struggle with Will. In D. Ross, D. Spurrett, H. Kincaid, & L. Stephens (Eds.), Distributed Cognition and the Will (pp. 289-322). MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Vancouver, J. B. (2006). Control theory. In S. G. Rogelberg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Vancouver, J. B. & Kendall, L. N. (2006). When self‑efficacy negatively relates to motivation and performance in a learning context. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 1146-1153.

Vancouver, J. B. (2005). The Depth of History and Explanation as Benefit and Bane for Psychological Control Theories. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 38-52.

Vancouver, J. B. Thompson, C. M. Tischner, E. C., & Putka, D. J. (2002). Two studies examining the negative effect of self-efficacy on performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 506–516.

Vancouver, J. B. & Putka, D. J. (2000). Analyzing Goal-Striving Behavior and a Test of the Generalizability of Perceptual Control Theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82, 334-362.

Vancouver, J. B. & Scherbaum Jr., C. A. (2000). Automaticity, goals and environmental interactions. American Psychologist, 55, 763-764.